Please Don't Feed the Animals—Including the One Wearing the Striped Pajamas

updated 10/29/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/29/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Alberto Vidal climbs out of bed at 8 a.m., stretches his lean frame and gets dressed. He has a breakfast of boiled eggs, toast, orange juice and tea while perusing the morning paper. Later, in his office, Vidal reads his mail, answers his telephone and works with his calculator. At 5 o'clock he relaxes with a cocktail. Another ordinary day.

What is extraordinary is that Vidal goes about his daily routine before an audience that includes lions, tigers and elephants. The 38-year-old mime from Barcelona, Spain has been playing a character titled "Urban Man" in zoos throughout Europe for the past year.

Last week he was scheduled to be on exhibit for three days at the Miami MetroZoo. The locals forked over $10,000 to lure him across the Atlantic during Hispanic Heritage Week. What they got for their money was a man willing to live round-the-clock among trundling Galapagos tortoises. Vidal is quick to point out that he is not living at the zoo, he is performing. "When he reads the paper," Vidal says of his character, "he doesn't really read it. If he reads, [the connection with the spectator] is finished." Sure enough, zoogoers become entranced by the most mundane aspects of Vidal's performance. Says his collaborator and art director, Australian actress Lucy Pinkus, "They'll stand and watch him eat a banana—and just eat a banana—for 30 minutes."

Vidal's portrayal of Urban Man has increased zoo attendance wherever he's gone, and has even won over his mother, a wealthy Catalonian who expected him to go into the family business, an electrical company headed by his father, who died when Alberto was 17. Instead he studied mime and movement. He says, "I had to demonstrate a great faith in my work, or else I would have been told, 'Come back to the business.' "

Vidal's U.S. visit may cause a problem for the Miami zoo. When the other animals get wind of the fact that a man got paid 10 Big Ones to act like a man, they might just get some funny ideas.

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